On a weekday afternoon in August, dozens of Taipei residents sit on the floor in a church basement, learning to pack wounds and apply bandages as part of a first aid course that has become more urgent as China intensifies its threats against Taiwan.
“With the situation in Taiwan at the moment, I think that sense of being ready [is] important," said Jean Hong, a 50-year-old who participated in the training.
Taiwanese residents are not panicking; many have witnessed China’s threats for decades. But a growing number of Taiwanese are also taking steps to prepare in case a war erupts.
“We are just overwhelmed by the demand,” said Enoch Wu, the founder of Forward Alliance, the nongovernmental organization which hosts about 15 of the first aid workshops sessions per month.
“We are facing a threat that we've never faced before,” Wu told VOA. “Right now, this is our best way to protect our hard-earned democracy while maintaining the peace.”
China has surrounded Taiwan with weeks of threatening military exercises following a solidarity visit earlier this month by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Interest in the civil defense workshops spiked earlier this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Wu said. The plight of Ukraine has resonated with many in Taiwan since both are being threatened by much larger, authoritarian neighbors.
Though China’s Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, it claims the island of 24 million people as a Chinese province. According to opinion polls, the vast majority of Taiwanese say they oppose unification with China.
Following the Ukraine invasion, a poll suggested 73% of Taiwanese were willing to take up arms to defend against a Chinese attack. Many Taiwanese believe Taiwan could do more to prepare itself.
“A lot of youngsters want to defend Taiwan. But when you ask them to join the military, they don’t want to do it,” said Lee Hsi-min, a retired admiral and former chief of general staff of Taiwan's armed forces.
Currently, Taiwanese males are required to complete just four months of basic military training. Taiwanese officials have said they will consider extending the military service requirement – a move that would have broad public support, polls suggest.
Lee also proposes a volunteer “territorial defense force” to train Taiwanese to defend their own families and homes ((https://warontherocks.com/2022/03/the-view-of-ukraine-from-taiwan-get-real-about-territorial-defense/)). That framework has been effective in Ukraine, where an all-volunteer force has supplemented reserve and active-duty components of Ukraine’s military.
Since the Ukraine invasion, Taiwan has also seen a surge in private programs specializing in urban warfare and firearms training, VOA’s Mandarin Service reported.
“No one wants war. But if a war breaks out, you have to get up and fight in order to protect those you love, or things and values you care about,” said 34-year-old Arthur Chang, who participated in one of the recent urban warfare sessions.
Other Taiwanese say they simply want to be prepared to help their neighbors in case a war erupts.
“Our military and first responders account for 1% of our population. The training we're providing is for the other 99%,” Wu said.